Even with all the hype surrounding the Steelers this offseason; Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger, Free Agency, who’s running the team, the Steelers are not in any worse shape than they are in any other year organizationally speaking. Sure they are working their way out of a tricky salary cap situation but it’s not as hopeless as it was made out to be initially. The front office knows exactly what they’re doing with player contracts, the draft, and pretty much everything else that involves running the franchise.
For some reason there is this notion that this offseason is so much different than previous years, that the Steelers are somehow potentially in trouble in the future with the salary cap. The Rooney’s and Kevin Colbert have not steered us wrong in the past so we shouldn’t be worried now about how things are going now. Every year no matter what the cap is, no matter who leaves or comes into the franchise, they always field a competitive team with a solid coaching staff. Ok, I know the whole Bruce Arians thing is debatable but we’ve beaten that horse long enough.
Before the 2011 season started there was concern that the team would enter the 2012 free agency period with too many big names out there on the market. How in the world could they sign Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons, Lamarr Woodley, and Ike Taylor all to new deals? They found a way to get it done, and even brought back Max Starks when they realized they shouldn’t have let him go in the first place. That’s how the Steelers do things, if they make a decision and find that it’s not working out they always have backup plans available. When they didn’t bring back Starks, even though most of us disagreed with the move, they had a hunch he’d be available if needed and sure enough he was and at a much lower price tag. You don’t always guess right on those types of moves but the Steelers more often than not, indeed do get it right in the end.
So why all this fuss now about Mike Wallace, or how the signings from 2011 will affect 2012 and beyond? Omar Khan, probably the best capologist in the NFL has things well under control. He and Kevin Colbert knew what they were getting themselves into when they gave out all those big contracts last season. The front office was fully prepared to deal with player restructures and cuts, and so far it’s gone pretty smoothly considering they were between $20-$30 million over the cap to start the offseason. After the latest restructure to Willie Colon, they are only around $8 million or so over, which is pretty easily attainable with a restructure to Roethlisberger’s and Harrison’s deals. If they were to cut Casey Hampton after June 1, they could save more money. They aren’t likely to cut him now because the savings won’t be as much as if they wait till June. Releasing Arnaz Battle and Bryant McFadden were hardly earth shattering moves but they still saved around $4 million in cap space between the two.
High profile player injuries like Casey Hampton and Max Starks may indeed alter their original draft plans but it’s certainly not a situation to which there is no hope. In fact it may be a blessing in disguise; neither player was going to last forever and there are some serious offensive line and defensive line prospects in this years’ draft.
As far as Wallace goes, they will be sure to tender him the first round amount of $2.7 million at some point so they can be assured of some compensation should he leave for a bigger payday. There’s still a chance also, that they can get a long term deal done with him before he would need to be tagged, and I wouldn’t put it past them to do so. If he does leave, having an extra premium pick in the draft is not exactly the worst situation to be in. Nobody thought they’d get the deals done with Timmons, Woodley, Taylor, and Polamalu last year but they did. Giving Wallace a huge signing bonus for say a 6 yr. deal would lessen his impact on the cap immediately. By giving him an increasingly higher salary throughout the life of the contract you allow yourself the flexibility to restructure with significant savings. It’s things like that they do every offseason for every player to give themselves the best chance to keep their team intact. Don’t forget, with the new TV contracts that will go into effect in the coming years, the salary cap will jump significantly allowing teams more flexibility to sign players.
Make no mistake it won’t be easy to get all the players signed that they would like, and perhaps they aren’t able to do so but should it come to that they are equipped to move forward and be competitive just like always.
Basically this offseason is not so out of the ordinary when you really think about it, and Kevin Colbert said as much in recent radio interviews: “We were prepared for this offseason and had a game plan in place” It’s just been more high profile than we’re used to dealing with.